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3 TRILLION On Babylon Wars?

Adding up the true costs of two wars

Joseph Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes

Last week the U.S. “stood down” in Iraq, finalizing the pullout of 140,000 troops from Iraqi cities and towns — the first step on the long path home. After more than six years, most Americans are war-weary, even though a smaller percentage of us have been involved in the actual fighting than in any major conflict in U.S. history.

But not so fast. The conflict that began in 2003 is far from over for us, and the next chapter — confronting a Taliban that reasserted itself in Afghanistan while the U.S. was sidetracked in Iraq — will be expensive and bloody. The death toll for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan reached 5,000 in June. An additional 80,000 Americans have been wounded or injured since the war in Iraq began. More than 300,000 of our troops have required medical treatment, and Army statistics show that more than 17 percent of our returning soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, even though most of the population has long told pollsters they can’t wait for U.S. forces to leave, U.S. officials have said we are likely to station 50,000 troops at military bases in the country for the foreseeable future. This is because the situation in Iraq is highly precarious.

Moreover, the U.S. barely has begun to face the enormous financial bill for the war. By our accounting, the U.S. has already spent $1 trillion on operations and related defense spending, with more to come — and it will cost perhaps $2 trillion more to repay the war debt, replenish military equipment and provide care and treatment for U.S. veterans back home. Many of the wounded will require indefinite care for brain and spinal injuries. Disability payments are ramping up and will grow higher for decades. The stress of extended, multiple tours to Iraq means that a whole generation of U.S. military men and women may now be suffering from long-term mental health issues. The suicide rate in the Army is at its highest level since record-keeping began.

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